theory of mind and helping people Theory of mind is an interesting concept. It lets us understand what another person sees. We generally develop this ability at about age 4 years.
Here is a common way it is explained: A father phones home and his three-year-old daughter answers. He asks her what she's been doing. She answers, "I've been playing with this." She doesn't understand that he doesn't know what she's looking at.
Last year an artificial intelligence was able to demonstrate theory of mind. This is a big deal. It is the beginning of empathy. There's still a long way to go yet, of course, but it's still pretty damn amazing.
I've begun to wonder if theory of mind is not the solid thing it is generally assumed to be.
I often help friends and family with their computer problems over the phone. It is extremely rare for a person to describe what they are seeing. Usually they seem to assume that I can see what they do. And it isn't just because they assume I'm an "expert" with computers. Often they'll do this with computer interfaces that I've told them I have little or no experience with. I'll jokingly tell them I haven't developed telepathy yet, so don't know what they're looking at, so they need to describe for me what they're seeing. But for some reason I've never understood, this is almost impossible for most people to do. Instead, I have to describe what I think they might be seeing and ask them if that fits or not, going through multiple descriptions until, either one fits what they're seeing or they become too frustrated and call an end to it.
Why is this? I'm not exceptional. Why can I describe things, but most other people can't? On rare occasions I have met people who carefully detail what they see and it's like turning on the light in the room. I can see what they see and quickly help them to the solution, if I know it. This makes it even more obvious there is something very strange going on here.
Here's the absurd explanation Chris Ladd received from Forbes regarding the post they removed:
We took down your evangelical piece. It was way out of bounds — painting the entire evangelical movement with a broad brush.
We also have a policy of not talking about social issues like abortion at Forbes Opinion — only economic policy and politics. We try to keep things data driven.
Also, given your criticisms of Robert Jeffress, you should have reached out to him for comment. As I noted in a recent email, it is extremely important to reach out for comment from anyone you personally criticize in your work.
Let me know if you have any questions about these points.
Why White Evangelicalism Is So Cruel
Chris Ladd, Contributor</p>
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 20: Diana Martinez,
18, an undocumented student was arrested with a dozen other
undocumented students refusing to leave their sit-in in the Hart Senate
Office building. Photographed on July 20 in Washington, DC. (Mark Abramson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Robert Jeffress, Pastor of First Baptist
Church in Dallas and an avid supporter of Donald Trump, earned headlines
this week for his defense of the president’s adultery with a porn star.
Regarding the affair and subsequent financial payments, Jeffress
explained, “Even if it’s true, it doesn’t matter.”
Such a casual attitude toward adultery and prostitution might seem odd from a guy who blamed 9/11 on America’s sinfulness.
However, seen through the lens of white evangelicals’ real priorities,
Jeffress’ disinterest in Trump’s sordid lifestyle makes sense. Religion
is inseparable from culture, and culture is inseparable from history.
Modern, white evangelicalism emerged from the interplay between race and
religion in the slave states. What today we call “evangelical
Christianity,” is the product of centuries of conditioning, in which
religious practices were adapted to nurture a slave economy. The
calloused insensitivity of modern white evangelicals was shaped by the
economic and cultural priorities that forged their theology over
Many Christian movements take the title “evangelical,” including many
African-American denominations. However, evangelicalism today has been
coopted as a preferred description for Christians who were looking to
shed an older, largely discredited title: Fundamentalist. A quick glance
at a map showing concentrations of adherents and weekly church attendance
reveals the evangelical movement’s center of gravity in the Old South.
And among those evangelical churches, one denomination remains by far
the leader in membership, theological pull, and political influence.
There is still today a Southern Baptist Church. More than a
century and a half after the Civil War, and decades after the Methodists
and Presbyterians reunited with their Yankee neighbors, America’s most
powerful evangelical denomination remains defined, right down to the
name over the door, by an 1845 split over slavery.
Southern denominations faced enormous social and political pressure
from plantation owners. Public expressions of dissent on the subject of
slavery in the South were not merely outlawed, they were a death
sentence. Baptist ministers who rejected slavery, like South Carolina’s William Henry Brisbane, were forced to flee to the North. Otherwise, they would end up like Methodist minister Anthony Bewley,
who was lynched in Texas in 1860, his bones left exposed at local store
to be played with by children. Whiteness offered protection from many
of the South’s cruelties, but that protection stopped at the subject of
race. No one who dared speak truth to power on the subject of slavery,
or later Jim Crow, could expect protection.
Generation after generation, Southern pastors adapted their theology
to thrive under a terrorist state. Principled critics were exiled or
murdered, leaving voices of dissent few and scattered. Southern
Christianity evolved in strange directions under ever-increasing
isolation. Preachers learned to tailor their message to protect
themselves. If all you knew about Christianity came from a close reading
of the New Testament, you’d expect that Christians would be hostile to
wealth, emphatic in protection of justice, sympathetic to the point of
personal pain toward the sick, persecuted and the migrant, and almost
socialist in their economic practices. None of these consistent
Christian themes served the interests of slave owners, so pastors could
either abandon them, obscure them, or flee.
What developed in the South was a theology carefully tailored to meet
the needs of a slave state. Biblical emphasis on social justice was
rendered miraculously invisible. A book constructed around the central
metaphor of slaves finding their freedom was reinterpreted. Messages
which might have questioned the inherent superiority of the white race,
constrained the authority of property owners, or inspired some interest
in the poor or less fortunate could not be taught from a pulpit. Any
Christian suggestion of social justice was carefully and safely
relegated to “the sweet by and by” where all would be made right at no
cost to white worshippers. In the forge of slavery and Jim Crow, a
Christian message of courage, love, compassion, and service to others
was burned away.
Stripped of its compassion and integrity, little remained of the
Christian message. What survived was a perverse emphasis on sexual
purity as the sole expression of righteousness, along with a creepy
obsession with the unquestionable sexual authority of white men. In a
culture where race defined one’s claim to basic humanity, women took on a
special religious interest. Christianity’s historic emphasis on sexual
purity as a form of ascetic self-denial was transformed into an
obsession with women and sex. For Southerners, righteousness had little
meaning beyond sex, and sexual mores had far less importance for men
than for women. Guarding women’s sexual purity meant guarding the purity
of the white race. There was no higher moral demand.
Changes brought by the Civil War only heightened the need to protect
white racial superiority. Churches were the lynchpin of Jim Crow. By the
time the Civil Rights movement gained force in the South, Dallas’ First
Baptist Church, where Jeffress is the pastor today, was a bulwark of segregation and white supremacy.
As the wider culture nationally has struggled to free itself from the
burdens of racism, white evangelicals have fought this development while
the violence escalated. What happened to ministers who resisted slavery
happened again to those who resisted segregation. White Episcopal
Seminary student, Jonathan Daniels, went to Alabama in 1965 to support voting rights protests.
After being released from jail, he was murdered by an off-duty
sheriff’s deputy, who was acquitted by a jury. Dozens of white activists
joined the innumerable black Americans murdered fighting for civil
rights in the 60’s, but very few of them were Southern.
White Evangelical Christians opposed desegregation tooth and nail.
Where pressed, they made cheap, cosmetic compromises, like Billy
Graham’s concession to allow black worshipers at his crusades. Graham
never made any difficult statements on race, never appeared on stage
with his “black friend” Martin Luther King after 1957, and he never
marched with King. When King delivered his “I Have a Dream Speech,”
Graham responded with this passive-aggressive gem of Southern theology,
“Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama
walk hand in hand with little black children.” For white Southern
evangelicals, justice and compassion belong only to the dead.
Churches like First Baptist in Dallas did not become stalwart
defenders of segregation by accident. Like the wider white evangelical
movement, it was then and remains today an obstacle to Christian notions
of social justice thanks to a long, dismal heritage. There is no
changing the white evangelical movement without a wholesale
reconsideration of their theology. No sign of such a reckoning is
Those waiting to see the bottom of white evangelical cruelty have
little source of optimism. Men like Pastor Jeffress can dismiss Trump’s
racist abuses as easily as they dismiss his fondness for porn stars.
When asked about Trump’s treatment of immigrants, Jeffress shared these comments:
Solving DACA without strengthening borders ignores the teachings of
the Bible. In fact, Christians who support open borders, or blanket
amnesty, are cherry-picking Scriptures to suit their own agendas.
For those unfamiliar with Christian scriptures, it might helpful to
point out what Jesus reportedly said about this subject, and about the
wider question of our compassion for the poor and the suffering:
Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for
the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I
was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not
take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you
did not visit Me.
What did Jesus say about abortion, the favorite subject of Jeffress
and the rest of the evangelical movement? Nothing. What does the Bible
say about abortion, a practice as old as civilization? Nothing. Not one
word. The Bible’s exhortations to compassion for immigrants and the poor
stretch long enough to comprise a sizeable book of their own, but no
matter. White evangelicals will not let their political ambitions be
constrained by something as pliable as scripture.
Why is the religious right obsessed with subjects like abortion while
unmoved by the plight of immigrants, minorities, the poor, the
uninsured, and those slaughtered in pointless gun violence? No white man
has ever been denied an abortion. Few if any white men are affected by
the deportation of migrants. White men are not kept from attending
college by laws persecuting Dreamers. White evangelical Christianity has
a bottomless well of compassion for the interests of straight white
men, and not a drop to be spared for anyone else at their expense. The
cruelty of white evangelical churches in politics, and in their
treatment of their own gay or minority parishioners, is no accident. It
is an institution born in slavery, tuned to serve the needs of Jim Crow,
and entirely unwilling to confront either of those realities.
Men like Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s
public policy group, are trying to reform the Southern Baptist church in
increments, much like Billy Graham before him. His statements on
subjects like the Confederate Flag and sexual harassment
are bold, but only relative to previous church proclamations. He’s
still about three decades behind the rest of American culture in
recognition of the basic human rights of the country’s non-white,
non-male citizens. Resistance he is facing from evangelicals will
continue so long as the theology informing white evangelical religion
remains unconsidered and unchallenged.
While white evangelical religion remains dedicated to its roots, it
will perpetuate its heritage. What this religious heritage produced in
the 2016 election, when white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump by a
record margin, is the truest expression of its moral character.
happiness (A lovely friend, Dorejejaguar, prompted me to write this last night.) I've often wondered why I'm happier than most people. After reading a fair bit on the topic I've come to the conclusion that I was just lucky that my upbringing accidentally gave me some very useful tools. My old girlfriend, Margaret, missed out on them and she makes herself miserable.
Here are the tools I've been able to figure out so far:
Gratitude I am deliberately grateful for things. There are lots of things we can be grateful for -- I have my eyesight (despite losing some in one eye), I can hear beautiful music (despite gradually going deaf), I have the use of my hands and my legs, I have thousands of books (both on paper and as ebooks), I have a lovely little companion doggie, I can pick up the phone and ring my wonderful parents who are less than an hour's drive away, I live way out in the country where birds and frogs serenade me, I have oodles of amazingly interesting videos to watch and talks to listen to (most downloaded from the net)... and so on. Studies have shown that feelings of gratitude boost enjoyment of life.
Helping people I help people when I can. We are social creatures so our brains are wired to generate pleasure when we help others. But this has to be genuine help otherwise it backfires. For example getting frustrated with someone because they don't use your help the way you'd expected, or they don't appear to appreciate it, makes you upset instead of happy because you are actully doing it for yourself instead of for them. It can be difficult, but it's a nice buzz when you get it right.
Postivity Find ways to view anything in a positive light. I like to boast that I can see the silver lining in the darkest cloud. It's not entirely true, but it mostly is. I can turn around almost anything to see the positive in it. It has become habit. (Margaret does the opposite and she often rings me depressed about something trivial that she's worked up into something worse than it should be. That's her habit, and she doesn't realise how it hurts her.)
Some examples make this clearer. Recently I hurt my back (I probably tore a muscle by picking something up the wrong way.) It was astonishingly painful. I could barely walk and couldn't sit at the computer for very long. I turned it into a positive by using it as an excuse to get a lot of reading done, lying in bed.
Here's another example: about a decade ago I was on chemotherapy, lost much of my hair, and was constantly exhausted. I had to pause walking up just a few steps to catch my breath. I turned it into a positive by studying the changes and understanding them. It was fascinating to see how the treatment made me anaemic, and I really enjoyed observing the effects in myself. It gave me greater understanding of, and empathy for, people who are similarly afflicted. It was an opportunity to learn because it doesn't matter how many times we read about something, or are told, we don't truly understand it until we experience it.
Another example: Some time back, I was listening to an interview with a writer who said that when she was little and she hurt herself or some other bad thing happened to her, her mother (who was also a writer) would say to her, "Don't worry dear, it's all grist to the mill." In other words it becomes part of her life experiences. It used to annoy the absolute crap out of her when she was a kid, but now that she's grown up and is a writer too she realises her Mum was exactly right. All those experiences -- good and bad -- give her a wealth that she can draw upon. I feel the same way. One time I was having a scary-looking mole cut out and when the doctor started cutting he said that if I can feel that to let him know and he'll inject more local anaesthetic. I said that it was okay because the pain was interesting. He looked at me funny, but I meant it. It wasn't overpoweringly awful, and it was an experience you don't get very often.
A last example: when I was visiting Margaret in New Zealand a few years ago I was helping her by mowing her lawn. When I took the mower from the back lawn around to the front lawn I switched off the mower and was clowning around running down the driveway acting as if it was a racecar. I swerved suddenly near the front gate, but didn't notice the concrete there was mossy. My feet went out from under me and I went down hard, tearing a hole in my pants, badly grazing my knee and one hand. But I focussed on how ridiculous it must have looked and collapsed in laughter punctuated with "Ow, ow!"
I'm not saying that I'm special. I'm just lucky that this has become a habit so I don't even have to try to do it anymore.
Accomplishment Getting something done gives a nice jolt of pleasure, whether it is cleaning the kitchen, or writing a small computer program, or learning a song, or drawing a picture. Weirdly, sometimes I get the greatest pleasure from simple things that take very little effort, but fulfill a need or desire.
Sleep Always make sure you get enough. If you don't have sufficient sleep, don't worry about it, catch up later with a nap.
Don't seek it One very important thing about happiness. I've noticed that seeking it seems to push it away. It's like that tip-of-the-tongue feeling when you're trying to remember a particular word; the harder you try to remember it, the further it recedes from your grasp. The best way to catch the word is to stop trying to catch it and it will pop into your mind later unbidden. Happiness is like that. I've met people who try and try to be happy and it makes them miserable. But you use tricks to elicit happiness while doing something else.
Some things that work for many people, but I don't need:
Bright light Sunshine can boost the brain's production of melanin, which can make some people happier. You don't need a lot of sunlight to get this effect. It's why some people feel more unhappy during winter.
Happiness diary A happiness diary can force people to notice the good things in their life. Just note down the good things that have happened to you each day, but not the bad things. It helps the good to loom larger in your view. The bad things will always be there and don't need help, but if your view is mostly uplifting then it sets your frame of mind.
Friends and family Having contact with friends and family seems to boost happiness for most people. (I enjoy my friends and family, but I don't need that to make me happy -- I love being a hermit. I don't get lonely.)
Activity Physical activity can boost pleasure. Sweeping the floor, going for a walk, dancing, calisthenic exercises. I am not a fan of heavy exercise. I prefer it gentle.
Resources There are a few resources I highly recommend. One is an excellent documentary titled simply "Happy". I haven't been able to find it online but if you ask me I might be able to find a way to get it to you.
Movies or books that are uplifting, especially comedies, can do wonders. One of my favorite YouTube videos is a Russian one of ordinary people helping each other. It never fails to choke me up and make me feel very happy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzBInt4zljQ
I love listening to Radiolab episodes. They are almost always uplifting human-interest talks with a good dash of humor. My favorites are the older ones. They have more than 200 of them online and new ones come out every couple of weeks. http://www.radiolab.org/
Finally, stay away from the mainstream media. Its entire business model is centered on making people fearful and angry. It is very successful at holding audience attention, but it makes people unhappy.
or if you want odd weeks: expr \( `date +%s` / 604800 + 1 \) % 2 >/dev/null || echo "odd"
There are 604800 seconds in a week. "% 2" gives the remainder after division by 2. When expr evaluates to zero the command after the OR (||) is run.
My rubbish collection is on alternate weeks. But cron doesn't know about fortnights and I only put my rubbish out once every two or three months (I don't have much waste). So I use this in cron to trigger an alert on the appropriate day:
matching a pattern in thesaurus output There must be a simpler way to do this. I was looking for words similar in meaning to "back" or "previous" or "before" but beginning with the letter "d".
My awk is a bit rusty so I used sed, which I seem to use almost every day, wonderful, ugly command it is. Here is what I came up with:
dict -d moby-thesaurus back | sed -z 's/,/\n/g' | sed 's/^[[:space:]]*//' | sed -n '/^[dD]/p'
dict looks up "back" in "moby-thesaurus" pipe to... sed gulps it all down as a single line using the -z option and, for all commas, substitutes a newline pipe to... sed removes all whitespace characters from start of each line pipe to... sed prints only lines that start with "d" or "D"
The choice of pattern is important, for example '\<d' also finds multiple word results where one of the words starts with "d" (e.g. "lay down").
But there must be a simpler way. Jeez! I can hardly wait for general purpose AI.
am, pm Is anybody else confused by the abbreviations "am" and "pm" when applied to 12 o'clock midday and 12 o'clock midnight? It seems to me not only arbitrary and confusing, but actually wrong.
The abbreviation "pm" is for post (after) meridiem (midday), so when speaking of twelve noon or midday is actually incorrect to call it 12pm, because it isn't after noon yet; it is noon. For this reason I prefer to call it 12 noon, or 12 midday, or just noon or midday.
A similar problem occurs at midnight. It is easy to see why 11pm is still referred to as after noon (post meridiem) because it is better described as after the previous noon rather than before the next noon because it is closer to one than the other, even though it is in reality both. Likewise it makes sense that 1am is referred to as before noon because it is closer to the next noon. But midnight is closer to neither the previous nor the next. It is equally am and pm. For this reason I prefer to call it 12 midnight, or just midnight.
Apparently, in an attempt to avoid confusing people, travel times around the world commonly use 12:01pm or 12:01am or 11:59am or 11:59pm instead of messing with the ambiguous 12:00 times.
As for the term "noon". That's a weird one. In the past it meant the ninth hour (nona hora) beginning around dawn, or our 6am, so that the ninth hour would have been our 3pm. So how did that eventually become midday? I don't know. Ancient Roman timekeeping is seriously muddled, and I haven't bothered to untangle it yet. One thing I do like about it though, is that the length of an hour changed according to the season and the location, so that at Rome an hour in summer would be about 75 minutes and in winter about 45 minutes. That makes wonderful good sense to me. Screw this stupid daylight saving time and the constantly shifting rising and setting times of the sun. On the other hand, one of my biggest complaints against daylight saving time is that it makes international meetings via the internet incredibly difficult, and constantly shifting hour lengths would seriously mess with that too.
I expect that sometime in the future we might end up with something like Star Trek's stardate which would resolve all synchrony problems, while completely removing all local relevance. We've already had an attempt at that with UTC, which is basically Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) without silly daylight saving. Incidentally, although UTC is often referred to as Universal Time Code, apparently it stands for the French: temps universel coordonné, which doesn't really make sense as it would be then TUC. It seems actually to stand for Universal Time Coordinated, which is an awful name, clearly chosen by a committee. Being locked to Greenwich in England gets up some people's noses. Admittedly much of the early work recorded in books was conducted at the observatory in Greenwich. But there were a lot of much earlier, very accurate astronomical calculations in India, so Greenwich wasn't the first. Perhaps the invention of the first reliable, portable, mechanical clock by Englishman John Harrison decided things. I don't know.
Once thing is certain: time is a mess. I won't even get started on other aspects of it, such as the 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week (making calculations of every second day messy), 28 or 29 or 30 or 31 days in a month (WTF!!!), 52 weeks in a year, and 364 or 365 days in a year. Naming the months mixes everything up still further, with September (sept=7) being the 9th month, October (oct=8) being the 10th month, November (novem=9) being the 11th month and December (dec=10) being the 12th month. (FFS!!) And then to top all this off, adding the recent and completely unnecessary insanity of daylight saving into that wreckage just completely screws everything even further.
Walkaway I just finished reading Cory Doctorow's latest book Walkaway. I really enjoyed it. I think it's his best yet. The ideas in it come thick and fast, as they do in all his books, but this one has the most hope and the most desperation. It also has the most believable characters.
I love Cory Doctorow's vision of the future, where the idea of people helping each other becomes the most important thing, not gaining wealth and possessions. In all his books there is a message about that, but this was by far the most overt and clearly thought-out one. He carefully presented a path to that future. I hope we take it, and I hope we embrace it more completely than the world does in his story. We could do without the clashes and strife accompanying the birth of that better world.
Given recent events though, I think he may have accurately gauged the strength of the forces against it. Recently I volunteered to build a website for the Sunshine Coast Community Halls. http://sunshinecoastcommunityhalls.com/ It was a pretty cool experience. There are a lot of amazing people doing wonderful things. However when I listed the Coolum Community Centre I also mentioned the fact that the hall had been moved once by the Council -- a sore point with a lot of people as it was moved to make way for a MacDonalds (which I didn't mention) -- and that now Council is going to move it again, far away from its present location, which has hundreds of locals annoyed. Bear in mind that this was just two short sentences in a long page of description about the hall, its history, and the people and their activities at the hall, just as I have done for every other of the twenty-odd halls.
Well, the Council was angry and I think threatened about it, so I was asked to remove the offending two sentences, which I did after querying whether they really wanted to draw attention to it like that. Then I had to remove the entire page about Coolum. Coolum was cut out of the festival. It made the Council look very petty and mean.
Because I was reading Walkaway at the time, I was struck by the similarity between how standard power-structures act in that story and how they were acting in reality. When challenged, no matter how meekly, they are met by ridiculously disproportionate force, so that small disturbances are utterly demolished. And then the authoritarians are genuinely puzzled when nobody trusts or likes them.
When I was a child growing up in the bush I liked to go walking kilometers to some of my favorite places. I remember on one occasion trying an experiment with black bullants and red bullants. I approached the black bullant nest and waved my arms. Some bullants would aggressively move toward me, rightly seeing me as a threat. The black bullants were quite mild and would only chase me for about a meter before realising I wasn't a threat and turning around to go back to their nest. However the red bullants were much more aggressive. They would chase me for about 3 meters from their nest before figuring I wasn't a threat. I've often wondered since, whether we white-skinned humans are like those red bullants: far too easily provoked to insane overreaction. Perhaps it's why we've so successfully populated the Earth. If so, that strategy is now endangering us.
Oh, and I've begun re-reading John Wyndham's Trouble With Lichen for the umpteenth time. Wonderful story. I'm thoroughly enjoying it again. Compared to Cory Doctorow's story it is so polite and understated. Interesting that both books are about equally world-shaking ideas, but told in such different ways.
I haven't been doing much writing myself. :( Two books to finish and no writing getting done. [sigh] Blocked on one, still writing out ideas and bits and pieces for the other. I've been thinking about doing some programming on some ideas I have for artificial intelligence (AI). That might help one of my stories (it is about AI).
I think I have a new favorite film When Marnie Was There (2014) is a Studio Ghibli film I hadn't heard of previously. It is a beautifully bittersweet story that reminds me of some of my favorite RenPy stories.
It adds to, rather than displaces, my other favorites, many of which are Studio Ghibli films too. Speaking of which, it's probably about time I re-watched Whisper of the Heart again. I rewatched another of my favorites again the other day: Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist -- love the quirkiness of that movie, and its refreshing dialogue. And another: The Wedding Singer. Lovely nutty movie, that.
Past due that I re-read John Wyndham's novel Trouble With Lichen too. I used to read it again every several years, but I've come to look forward to it so much lately that I read it once every couple of years. Wonderful story.
Hmmm... seem to be on a bit of a nostalgia binge...
At the moment I'm reading Cory Doctorow's latest novel, Walkaway. I love a lot of his concepts, and this one is based around the idea that people in dire circumstances don't act horribly toward each other, but become everyday heroes. There is a lot to bear out his thoughts on the matter. In recent disasters people have gone out of their way to help each other, often putting themselves at risk to do so. It is a relief to see someone notice that. We have so many disaster movies and horrible survivalists who paint humans as civilised only skin deep where you scratch the surface and monsters emerge. We ignore all the clear evidence to the contrary... such as this picture of the guy who spent a lot of time and effort and fuel pulling wild wallabies out of flood waters.
The year was 1991, in August, on the 25th day, young computer student Linus Torvalds first announced the earliest version of what was to become the mighty Linux operating system.
Linux is now installed on an estimated 87 million desktop computers, if you include Android smartphones and tablet computers (Android uses the Linux kernel) then then that number jumps to about 1.6 billion!!
Linux is the most popular Operating System for computers serving the web.
More than 99% of supercomputers run Linux.
Not bad for such a young OS that was developed for fun.
Here is Linus' original post:
> From: torvalds@klaava.Helsinki.FI (Linus Benedict Torvalds)
> Newsgroups: comp.os.minix
> Subject: What would you like to see most in minix?
> Summary: small poll for my new operating system
> Message-ID: <1991Aug25.205708.9541@klaava.Helsinki.FI>
> Date: 25 Aug 91 20:57:08 GMT
> Organization: University of Helsinki
> Hello everybody out there using minix -
> I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and
> professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing
> since april, and is starting to get ready. I'd like any feedback on
> things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat
> (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons)
> among other things).
> I've currently ported bash(1.08) and gcc(1.40), and things seem to work.
> This implies that I'll get something practical within a few months, and
> I'd like to know what features most people would want. Any suggestions
> are welcome, but I won't promise I'll implement them :-)
> Linus (firstname.lastname@example.org)
> PS. Yes - it's free of any minix code, and it has a multi-threaded fs.
> It is NOT protable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never
> will support anything other than AT-harddisks, as that's all I have :-(.
It has been my habit for years to eat my meals while listening to a talk, or watching a documentary, or watching a piece of fiction. Lately I've been listening to one of my favorite shows, Radiolab, after having downloaded a heap more of their shows. It really is an amazing show.
Yesterday I listened to an episode called "Oops". It is an hour long episode that originally aired on 28th June 2010. If you want to download it, the direct link is: http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/audio4.wnyc.org/radiolab/radiolab090310.mp3 A lot of that episode was very funny, where they talked about the kind of silly errors that resulted from injudicious use of spell-checker programs, but one of the longer stories was extremely serious. It was how torture created an awful terrorist. I wish they'd followed the implications through more completely, but I was surprised that they just left it hanging there before moving on with the rest of the episode.
This morning I ate breakfast while listening to an episode from 26th July 2010 titled "Secrets of Success" in which Robert chatted with Malcolm Gladwell (one of my favorite thinkers) about what makes success. It was funny and very informative. I love the conclusion that, more than anything, doing something obsessively, basically for the love of it, is what makes someone so good at it that it often gets referred to somewhat mystically as "genius". It gives me hope that my writing might have some value, despite my vanishingly small audience.
I couldn't stop thinking about it afterward, and ended up creating a fairly simple program that analysed each of my 6 novels, working out how many unique words each one contained, then attempted to estimate what kind of vocabulary that represented by dividing the unique words by total number of words. I'm not entirely sure this is the best, most reliable way to do this, but it might give a rough guide. I was surprised, and somewhat relieved to find that my books have been trending towards greater vocabularies. My story "flying" is a bit of an exception, having a very low vocabulary, but I think that may be because it consists almost entirely of dialogue and the main character is a fairly naïve young girl.
I love the fact that it's so damn easy to do that kind of thing in Linux. Unlike Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac computers, which actively discourage people from writing programs, Linux makes available dozens of easy tools for programming.
For my simple concordance program I used mostly sed, a very simple and fast stream editor that lets me feed text into a bunch of commands so that what comes out the other end is modified according to those commands. I also used Linux's tr, wc, sort, uniq, and bc commands. These are part of every Linux distribution.
I used sed mainly to get rid of any HTML tags I'd embedded in the text, and also to remove blank lines. The tr command let me translate certain characters to other characters (uppercase to lowercase so words that started sentences were not considered different, and spaces to end of line characters to put each word on its own line) and explicitly delete certain characters (mostly punctuation and numbers). The wc command counts characters, words, and lines in a text file. I sorted the file two ways using the sort command. Firstly, after each word had been put on a separate line, I sorted them alphabetically so I could then run uniq on the list, which collapsed the list down, getting rid of duplicates and prefixing each with the number of instances of that word. Then I sorted again, but this time numerically from least (most unusual) to highest (most common). I used bc, the commandline calculator to find the ratio of unique words to total words as a single floating point number. Really pretty simple.
Another way of measuring the text is to analyse sentence complexity. There is already a Linux command that can do that. It is called style, though I'm not sure the output is very useful for what I want. The manual does give various formulas for calculating sentence complexity, so that's useful. I may look at doing that another day.
For anybody who is interested, here is my quick and simple concordance program. The parts in red are comments. They're just there to help me understand what the heck I was doing when I read it again six months later.
(I've put the code behind a cut tag because LJ messes up the entire journal if I have long lines.)
writing This November I decided to write a story I'd mapped out in a fair bit of detail some time back about a young woman who is aspie (has Asperger's syndrome -- that is, she's a high-functioning autistic). She believes she is a deductive genius like the fictional Sherlock Holmes, but, although she is extremely perceptive, she's not as smart as she thinks she is. This story was a bit of a change for me as I was trying to make it a little bit comedic in parts. I'm not sure how successful I was. Like most of my stories I have some very serious messages to tell, and I just hope I didn't get too preachy. A lot of my time and effort in writing these days is spent trying to cover that up. I'm told people don't like such things thrust in their faces. That surprises me. I love those kinds of stories.
I finished it (well, the first draft, anyway) much more quickly than I expected, so after a little rest I've continued writing another story -- one I'd begun some months ago.
This second story is an altogether different experience for me. It is still science fiction -- all my stories are -- but this one has neither artificial intelligence nor virtual reality. Even more unusually it's set in a post apocalyptic future, though not one brought on by humans (at least not nominally). It is though, as most of my stories are, optimistic.
I'm about halfway through writing it and still haven't got a name for it. Well, that's not entirely true. I have several names for it, but I don't really like any of them. My working title is "Photosynthesis". See what I mean? Not a great title. Other potential names are:
breath of life
free as the air
A Breath of Fresh Air
Yeah. :) it has something to do with air. If you'd like to help me choose a name (it doesn't have to be on the list), ask me and I'll post the story online for you to read what I'm writing. Or feel free to ask even if you're simply curious and want to read it as I write it.
When I opened the box I was impressed. As everybody says in all the reviews, the packaging is truly a work of art! I have never seen anything so carefully and meticulously protected.
I went through the packing list. All parts on the list are there, plus 2 end-stop pieces. The end-stop pieces look a little different from the ones in videos I'd watched, so that's promising as other people had not been too keen on the old end-stops. It will be interesting to see how they go, though it hardly matters; anything that attaches to the rods to trigger the microswitches will do fine.
A few things that I am especially happy about:
- I neglected to specify in my order the color and type of plastic feeder filament. A couple of times I almost went online to order one of PLA* and one of ABS**. I wanted a white one and a black one and was envisioning being sent whatever outrageous colors never get requested. However I was sent one spool of black PLA and one spool of white ABS. Excellent! (Incidentally, I think one reason my package arrived so quickly is that I didn't specify about the filaments, so they simply grabbed a pre-boxed one and sent it. Picky orders might take a little longer depending on supplies.)
- a nice extra that they don't need to include, but do anyway, was an SD card (actually a microSD inside an adapter). Videos I'd watched and reviews I'd read said it was just a 2GB card, which might seem small, but is in fact plenty big enough for the job. So I was surprised to find an 8GB card with mine. Very nice. :)
- I received the aluminium heated bed instead of the glass bed. I've heard the aluminium one is superior, so that's a nice bonus.
Sunhokey seem to go that little bit extra to keep their customers happy.
Now I've cleared space on my bench to assemble it. My fingers are tingling in anticipation. More later...
vertigo Well, this is perfectly horrible. I woke from a nap today with awful vertigo. As I get very bad motion sickness when my vision of out of sync with my inner ear's motion sensors this is especially nauseating for me. I keep breaking out in cold sweat and worrying that I'm about to lose my last meal. Very annoying.
I'm hoping it is merely that an otolith has come loose from its gravity sensor and is tumbling around in the semicircular canal triggering unexpected signals from my motion sensing hairs. If that's the case there are some simple exercises I can do that cause the otolith to become wedged where it can't cause any more harm. So far these exercises haven't helped.
An alternative explanation that I'm less keen on is that I've somehow poisoned myself. Last night was my once-a-week protein night. As usual I had a can of sardines for the protein.
Having come from a long line of vegetarian apes, we humans are not terribly well adapted to eating meat. Unlike many genuine carnivores, we don't have a liver capable of rendering safe many of the dangerous poisons in unfresh meat. A dog could eat with relish a piece of meat that would quickly kill a human. I'm still alive, so I don't think the sardines were unfresh.
Freshness isn't the only concern. With humanity using the oceans as major dumping places for all kinds of toxins I have to wonder what we take in through fish.
In many parts of the world heavy metal contamination of fish is a major problem. Of the heavy metals, arsenic is the only one that I know of that is associated with vertigo. Unfortunately it often turns up in sardines. A pity, because sardines are exceptionally nourishing for hermits like me.
I also drink well water. The government no longer offers free water testing, which strikes me as very short-sighted. I have no idea whether my water is contaminated with arsenic. It is a very common problem in many parts of the world. We have filters that take out all microbes in the water, along with many of the chemical contaminants. The filters are overdue for changing, so I'll do that tomorrow.
There is another interesting, but disturbing possibility. Over the past week, or maybe a bit longer, I've been feeling an odd kind of vertigo whenever I angled my head to look inside a computer that I was rebuilding for a friend. I thought little of it at the time, but later as it kept recurring when I would put my head at an unusual angle, I began to wonder more about it. I tried closing my eyes and moving my head to induce the feeling, and I didn't fall over, so I figured this wasn't normal vertigo. It wasn't sickening; it just felt weird. I resolved to simply keep an eye on it and see what happens. I really didn't expect this sudden, full-on, stomach-wrenching affliction that hit me today after my nap.
An odd thing about the nap, too. Normally my midday nap lasts only about 20 minutes and I wake refreshed and ready to attack whatever problems I'm working on with a reinvigorated, alert mind. Today my nap was, I think, about 2 hours. That only really happens if I've been neglecting my night-time sleep. But I'm pretty sure last night I got almost a full night's sleep. (I have, however, a terrible sense of time, so I can't be certain.)
If this problem hasn't eased by Wednesday I'll make an appointment with the doctor and take it from there.
Now I'll have my dinner (a lovely bowl of veggies) and hope I can keep it down.
Additional: The veggies were delicious, and I'm feeling much more settled. I still have the vertigo, but it isn't making me feel quite so ill anymore... perhaps because I've been keeping relatively still. I'll be interested to see how I feel in the morning. Early to bed tonight, I think.
Further: I went to bed early, however I only slept about 4 hours before waking again. I was surprised and happy to find I no longer had vertigo. After taking little Nata the dog out for a walk and wee I came back in and succumbed to the lure of the computer. About 3 hours later I noticed the beginnings of vertigo again, so I went back to bed to sleep about another 3 hours. This time when I awoke it was with noticeable vertigo once more. I managed pretty fine in spite of it, then had another nap about midday. I deliberately slept on the side I'd woken on a little after midnight when I'd been free of vertigo. And when I woke from my midday nap I had only very slight vertigo. Excellent.
I rang Mum to tell her about it and she wasn't there, but Dad was so I explained it to him. He surprised me by telling me he'd had short episodes of vertigo for many years, about once a year or so. Oh dear. That may mean I have these "delightful" experiences to look forward to every now and then for the rest of my life. Well, people have worse afflictions. I'm sure I'll manage fine.
Pet pointed to a light streaking across the night sky. "Look! A meteor." She didn't actually use the word "meteor" because she had lost her real parents when she was very young and didn't know much of her human language. She used the equivalent word from Mother's language. Mother had rescued and raised her.
Pet was human, in her twenties, had smooth, brown skin, and long, curly, black hair. Mother was a native of this planet and looked like a woolly mammoth — she was almost that big and had a long, thick, shaggy coat like one, but her enormous round head had a meditative, contented face like a sloth's.
Each evening Mother and Pet lay together here on this flat rock overlooking the valley to watch and listen. This world had no moons or lights from technological civilisation so night was always dark. Tonight there were no clouds so the stars were especially sharp and beautiful. But without clouds the night was colder than usual. Pet pulled Mother's shaggy gray hair around her for warmth and snuggled closer in beside Mother's neck. She felt, rather than heard, the very low sounds Mother would call out, talking with others of her kind beyond the valley, even beyond the horizon. Low frequency sounds can easily travel for great distances. Mother's people lived sparsely on their world, yet all remained in constant contact through their infrasonic, rumbling conversations, passing messages on, from one to the other in a huge planet-wide network. Mother would then translate the conversations for Pet into sounds audible to human ears. Mostly Pet and Mother used Mother's language when talking to each other, but when a human word would suit they used it. Mother intentionally continued to use what little human speech she could, in case humans visited this world again; her hope was that Pet would be able to talk to them and rejoin her people.
Mother told her what she was hearing from others. It wasn't a meteor. It was a spaceship and it had landed near the remains of the colony Pet's people had built all those years ago.
Pet stood excitedly, "My people?"
Mother slowly stood also, "No. Sorry little Pet. We must go to the cave. They are Hunters."
Pet's stomach suddenly felt hollow. She whispered, "Here again." She clenched her fists.
"Come little Pet. It is not safe here."
They moved as quickly as possible, Pet running ahead and Mother ambling on all fours. They went around the side of the hill, under the great fern-like trees to Mother's cave. The entrance was obscured by giant mosses and ferny plants, and they pushed their way past the damp vegetation into the dry and relatively warm cave interior. There were no lights or furnishings. Mother could always see well enough by the feeble infrared light of her own body heat leaking through her thick coat, but Pet radiated so much heat she lit the cave like a lantern. Pet, of course, being human, was quite blind in the cave, but had perfected the skill of clapping her hands and judging distance by the echo. She'd spent every night for most of her life in here so knew it intimately anyway.
Several hundred years ago this had been a shallow cave, but over time Mother had extended it, as her people have always done, by gradual digging, just a little each night. Some of the mountains were riddled with tunnels, carved out over millions of years. Mother's cave, being relatively new, only extended a short couple of hundred meters, into the mountain and had only the one way in. The single entrance gave it less chance of being found, but meant that if discovered they were trapped. There was no threat to Mother's people native to their planet, but the Hunters had come a few hundred years ago from another world and Mother's people had learned to take precautions against the blood-soaked visits every few decades. The Hunters never stayed for long, and left no colony of their own. They didn't eat those they killed, but slaughtered, mutilated, took trophies, and left again. Killing seemed to be some kind of perverse sport to them.
Pet was pacing back and forth in the dark, her fists clenched, her mind going over these horrible creatures and their return. She was angry and very scared.
Mother said, "Please, Pet. Do not worry. We will be safe here."
"They should not be allowed to do this. How can you just accept it?" She felt tears coming and that annoyed her further. She wiped the tears away angrily.
Mother gave a calming rumble. "We don't believe there is any solution other than letting time run its course. The problem takes care of itself. Those that put great effort into war, that consider soldiers noble, that think force solves problems, that love weapons, they tend to die out by exposing themselves to violence. Those who love peace and are wise enough to prefer nonviolent lives tend to survive in increasing numbers even though some are killed by the mad ones. If the peaceful members of a species are unable to do this, then the species exterminates itself. It is unavoidable."
"But that could take many, many lifetimes!" Pet shouted, her voice loud and echoing in the dark cave.
"Yes. On a small island it happens quickly. On a large continent it is slow. But the situation with the Hunters is different. They have access to other worlds. Their boundaries are less defined. Perhaps the Hunters attacked the landing party of a peaceful spacegoing species and stole their technology. They don't seem to be smart enough or cooperative enough to develop the technology themselves. If so, then the people who accidentally gave the Hunters access to space should have been more careful. It would be best if violent species were confined to their planet until they have either outgrown their violent infancy or destroyed themselves."
"So the Hunters could remain a threat forever?"
"No, there will always be the pressure to become less violent — violence always increases the risk of death to the violent individual. Peace tends to increase the lifespan. So even though the Hunters have escaped the bounds of their planet, the pressure to be peaceful still operates — much reduced, but still there. It could take millions of years, but they will eventually become peaceful or die out."
"Someone should do something about them."
"What can be done?"
"Take their space travel technology from them. Kill them to stop them hurting other peaceful people."
"Willingness to kill is counterproductive. And forcibly exterminating the Hunters eliminates their potential to become a peaceful species."
"I still think someone should do something to stop the Hunters killing."
"The Hunters are doing it. The most violent ones kill themselves, the less violent ones survive better. Patience, little Pet. Interfering just makes things worse, not better. Come, little Pet." She reached out a big leathery paw, pulled Pet to her and wrapped her big, warm, furry arms around her. "Please sleep, small one. We are safe here."
Nestled between Mother's neck and shoulder, with Mother's long fur blanketing her, Pet was warm, but spent a very restless night. She kept thinking she heard the approach of the dreaded Hunters. She was scared and angry. Those monsters had killed her parents, had wiped out the colony, and had murdered countless numbers of Mother's people. They might one day find the homeworld of Pet's people... if they hadn't already. Her thoughts suddenly chilled her. She might be the only one of her kind left anywhere.
Pet feared these creatures terribly, but hated them more. She couldn't stop thinking about the aftermath of previous visits. She and Mother would investigate a suddenly silent friend some valleys away, only to find them gutted and dismembered and missing some toes or teeth taken as trophies. Such events left her trembling with nausea and revulsion. Pet had barely any memories of the extermination of the human colony, but the horror stayed fresh. She could vaguely remember her parents' daily attempts to communicate with enormous, friendly Mother being suddenly interrupted one day by sounds of explosions and cries, and she could remember Mother having tucked her into the warm neck-pouch and ambling as fast as she could into the dark forest, all the while murmuring that she must be calm and quiet, that bad people had hurt her family and wanted to hurt her, that they needed to get away. Pet had been terrified. Now, around twenty years later the fear remained, but anger had grown with it.
Before daylight Pet crept out of the cave and made her way awkwardly in the darkness toward the remains of the human colony, where the Hunters now were.
By the time the sky began to lighten Pet had crossed a valley and a hill. She was about halfway to the site and still had no idea what she going to do. All she knew was that she burned with hatred and desperately wanted to find a way to destroy these vile creatures — to kill as many as she could.
She was about to step out from under the cover of trees to cross a small meadow at the bottom of the valley when she heard the sound of one of the Hunters' small scout flyers approaching. Without thinking she grabbed a pole that was a fallen stick-palm, hefted it and when the scout screamed into view, threw the pole into its jet intake. There was an explosion. Fragments of metal and stick sprayed out, shredding shrubs and small palms. The scout nosedived into the trees behind her and was torn apart. Pet ran to the site of the crash. One of the hunters had been ripped to pieces on impact with a tree. The other was lying broken on the ground, not moving. Pet picked up a sharp stick and moved warily closer. Its four thin legs were crushed and bent askew and the main, flat body was seeping blue liquid where a stick had penetrated between the large, overlapping scales. The creature's eyes were closed. The nasty pincers and thin, soft, short tentacles on either side of its mouth were not moving. She stepped closer and touched it with her stick. An eye fluttered open and stared glassily at her, causing her to step back involuntarily. Then, remembering the murder of her people and many of Mother's people, she growled, stepped forward, and thrust the stick deeply into the creature's eye. The tentacles stiffened, the pincers widened, then both relaxed.
Pet felt sick. Turning away, she continued grimly on her previous path. Once more at the edge of the trees, she looked around in the early dawn light to see if all was clear, scampered across the meadow and began climbing the last hill. She knew that when she reached the top of this hill she would be able to see the Hunters' landing site.
On the crest of the hill she crawled under the cover of some shrubs and lay there watching the encampment below. The Hunters were fast-moving on their four thin legs, and their overlapping plates of armour made them seem safe from attack. They carried small catapaults slung under their wide, flat heads. The tentacles near their pincers could reach down, pull the device out to fling a small, explosive ball. The Hunters seemed to be as violent to each other as they were to other creatures. It seemed to make no sense. A couple of times she had seen fights break out among the creatures. Others would form a circle around the opponents. In the first fight she saw, one of the fighters had quickly killed the other by jumping on its back and, gripping the other's head in its pincers, gradually tore the other's head off. On the other occasion the "winner" bit its opponent's legs off before standing on it and sinking its long, curved pincers neatly into the other's head. The several onlookers stepped back a few paces and used their little tentacles with their catapaults to pelt small explosive balls at the victor, blowing bits of the creature all over the area. The group then dispersed as if nothing had happened. Pet watched, thoroughly revolted. These creatures were insane.
After a couple of hours of watching, she got a shock when her foot was grabbed. Before she could react Mother dragged her backwards away from the edge of the hill, lifted her by her foot and stuffed her into the pouch under her enormous, round head, then hurried back down the hill, away from the Hunters' site. When Pet started to protest, she was told to be quiet. Noise risked them both being killed.
When they were far enough away to be able to talk quietly, but without slowing, Mother told Pet how disappointed she was in her.
Pet said angrily, "I want to make them pay for what they did to my people and yours. I was looking for a way to attack them."
"I thought you had a good mind. I now doubt that. I saw what you did to the creatures on the scout craft."
"They deserved it."
"You do not understand what you have done. You have given the Hunters what they love most. Have you realised yet what they do? Killing is valued highly by them. By killing two of their people you are now a prized catch. You have condemned many of my people to death because the Hunters will put much more effort into killing anything in this area in an attempt to find the prize. You have not slowed or discouraged them; you have renewed their interest in killing my people."
With a shock, Pet understood. Her heart sank. "I'm sorry Mother." She jumped out of the pouch, stumbled from Mother's forward motion then started to run back the way they'd come, but Mother reached out with a back paw and tripped Pet over. Before Pet could scramble to her feet again Mother had turned and gripped one of Pet's arms firmly in her big leathery paws. Pet protested, "Let me go. If I let myself be caught by them they won't be so interested in killing your people."
"Your death is not a solution. I've already warned my people. We will hide until the Hunters leave. Stop being a danger to both of us. Come now."
Pet sighed and climbed back into the pouch and Mother resumed her run through the forest, pausing a few times along the way to take cover under fern trees when a scout craft shot overhead.
After some hours of traveling this way they came to the crest of a high rocky hill, the top of which was a great heap of giant boulders. It was almost devoid of vegetation. Mother's pace slowed, having to wend her way between the enormous rocks. Finally she stopped at a massive boulder that sat on three others. There was a space between the great boulder above and a gigantic flat rock beneath — enough space for mother to crawl in on her belly. The other side of this shelter looked out high over the steep hillside they'd just ascended.
Pet left Mother's pouch and took in the vast panorama. "Why have we come here?"
"We would not be safe at our cave. A line drawn from the Hunters' landing site to the wrecked scout ship points straight to it."
Pet's face reddened. "I'm sorry," she said meekly.
Mother grunted. "There is a larger cave behind us hidden under the boulders. We will sleep there at night, and during the day we can come out here and watch the Hunters and warn my people."
In the misty blue distance Pet could see the Hunters' landing ship. Suddenly she saw a flash and a cloud appear on a far hill and some little while later a muffled boom. Several minutes later another flash and smoke in a valley, then another delayed boom.
With a feeling of forboding, Pet asked what they were.
"The Hunters are finding and killing my people."
Pet moaned. She pressed her knuckles into her face and whispered, "My fault."
Mother said softly in her deep rumbling voice, "All we can do is wait."
Pet said bitterly, "I wish they could all be destroyed. Bloodthirsty people like them don't deserve to live. The world would be a better place without them."
"Oh, little pet. If that was so then I would not be here and neither would you. Your temper and thirst for revenge shows your species is still immature and violent. A hundred million years ago, in my people's infancy, we were ferocious and loved to fight. If we had been exterminated at that time we would never have become a people who love peace, knowledge, and wisdom. We came close to destroying ourselves many times before we learned the lesson: anger, hurting others, destruction... these are never the solution to anything; they are actually the problem."
fossil fuels, and reducing the need Almost every technology we have relies upon fossil fuels. We need to work out ways to break that chain of dependency. I don't count using oil to make plastics as an example of a bad thing, but I do see the use of oil as fuel to run the processes in making that plastic as bad. Plastics are amazing materials that we should value more. Correctly used they are light, flexible, resilient, non-toxic, and can last thousands of years, potentially being handed down to our descendants. Using them for disposable items is obscene.
We could use solar furnaces instead of oil and coal for almost all industrial processes that currently require fossil fuels, but it does require effort. And it would help to have a government which is not corrupt and whose heads are not buried in the sand.
The most important change is to design our buildings properly. We've been building them badly for thousands of years and it feels like we've learned almost nothing over that time. They are our biggest standing consumer of energy -- much worse than transport. We need to insulate and light them sensibly so that they need as little additional heating, cooling, lighting, and shading as possible. It is actually easy to do. ● Clerestory lighting and skylights, and ponds or other reflective surfaces oriented correctly outside windows can greatly reduce the need for artificial lighting. ● Insulation and passive convection heating and cooling, can vastly reduce energy needs, especially if a sunroom is used to gather heat in cold climates, and appropriately calculated roof eaves ensure light is admitted in winter, but not summer. Strategic placement of deciduous trees can also help in this respect. ● Building underground, if designed with sensible lighting and heating/cooling can bring great improvements to many aspects of homes and commercial buildings: - better thermally insulated - greater thermal mass (so they change temperature slowly) - much better sound insulation (play the drums without upsetting the neighbors) - double use of your land (you can still use the land on the "roof") - safety from bushfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and if designed right, even floods - better protection from thieves and other hostile invaders
One of the things that has caught everybody's attention is the appearance of some extremely bright spots on the surface. Nobody has any real idea what they may be, although that doesn't stop people suggesting possibilities. This is much more fun than betting on stupid horse races or elections. My hunch is that they're ice.
The image NASA released has, for some inexplicable reason, swapped the low frequency light (infra-red) with the high frequency (blue). I've swapped them back again to give a better idea of what it looks like. Remember this is color enhanced and the planetoid probably looks more like a gray sphere with only the slightest hints of color. Remember also that the reddish areas indicate heat rather than actual red. To see the craters properly imagine the light coming from the left.
For some reason LJ no longer seems to respect sideways scrolling images, so throws my entire page out of whack, so I give a couple of reduced images here and put the full-sized ones behind a cut.